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Climate Conference Delivers Agreement to Transition Away from Fossil Fuels

The 2023 UN climate conference has concluded with an agreement, approved by nearly 200 countries, to shift away from fossil fuels.

An earlier proposal for a complete “phaseout” of hydrocarbons faced pushback from Mideast oil producers. The final text instead calls for “transitioning away from fossil fuels” while “accelerating action in this critical decade, so as to achieve net zero by 2050.” This is the first time the words “fossil fuels” have been included in a UN climate agreement.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said a representative of the Marshall Islands, which is highly vulnerable to rising seas. “In the context of the real world, it is not enough.”

Countries must cut emissions nearly in half by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050 to have a shot at limiting warming to 1.5 degrees C. This year both emissions and temperatures reached record highs.

The new pact, agreed to after two weeks of negotiations in Dubai, calls for tripling renewable power by 2030 and for curbing emissions of methane, a highly potent heat-trapping gas prone to leaking from gas pipelines and drilling sites.

Critics say the agreement does not do enough to aid developing countries with the shift to clean energy. “Right now, in the financial section of the text, we do not have the economics required for the deep transition,” said Colombia’s environment minister, Susana Muhamad.

The text also recognizes a role for “transitional fuels,” understood to be a reference to natural gas, and calls for accelerating carbon capture. Critics see the language on carbon capture as a giveaway to fossil fuel producers, who say the world can continue to burn hydrocarbons so long as it draws down the emissions they produce.

“The decision at COP28 to finally recognize that the climate crisis is, at its heart, a fossil fuel crisis is an important milestone. But it is also the bare minimum we need and is long overdue,” said former U.S. vice president Al Gore. “The influence of petrostates is still evident in the half measures and loopholes included in the final agreement.”

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